Christine Stuart photo

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he’s spending more on transportation than previous administrations, while Republican challenger Tom Foley said traffic congestion in Connecticut has gotten worse over the past few years.

Malloy and Foley spoke separately Monday at a forum sponsored by a broad-based group of state and regional transportation organizations. Foley addressed the group first and was followed by Malloy.

The two spoke separately about the balance between highways and public transit. Malloy wants to increase investment in both areas, but Foley would be focused mostly on highway expansion.

“Any purposeful strategy to push people out of their cars and onto mass transit, I really don’t think is going to work,” Foley told the group at the Best Western in North Haven.

He later clarified his statement for reporters exactly what he meant. “For some people mass transit doesn’t work for them and they need to be able to make that choice for themselves. I don’t think the government should be telling them what to do,” Foley said. “The traffic congestion isn’t getting people onto mass transit.”

Malloy chuckled when he was told by reporters what Foley said during the forum.

“What world is he in?” Malloy asked. “Does he understand how many people use buses? Does he know what a bus is? Has he ever used a bus? Or does he use the railroad? … Can can you imagine Connecticut without the New Haven line?”

Malloy added, “I think he has this idea that all transit is for people other than his class and therefore it’s not important.”

Foley opined that he thinks traffic congestion has gotten worse during Malloy’s administration. As he drives around the state Foley said he sees highway projects, but “I don’t see them increasing the capacity of those roads.” He said he understands the need for the deferred maintenance, but “I don’t see a whole lot being done that increases capacity.”

Malloy said Foley needs to educate himself on the subject.

“The guy says traffic is worse than its ever been and then he says we spend too much money on transit,” Malloy said. “The reason we need to spend more money on transit is because traffic is bad. Traffic is bad because we underinvested in the system for the better part of 20 years before I became governor.” 

Malloy seemed excited to talk about his record on transportation and even asked the group for more time.

Christine Stuart photo

“Quite frankly, I’m happy to let the last three-and-a-half years speak for itself,” Malloy told the audience of more than 100 people.

He said he had his staff compare the amount of money he’s spent on transportation with past administrations and adjusted for inflation he’s spent more money on transportation than the past two Republican administrations, which spanned nearly two decades.

“This administration is committed to building out the infrastructure of the state,” Malloy said. “Quite frankly, this administration is committed to building out the infrastructure that should have been built over the last 25 years.”

He said the state needs to be serious about “transportation and transit.”

“My opponent says he wants to cut funding to transit,” Malloy said. “I think that’s the wrong way to go. Nor do I think we should cut our roads and bridges and highways account to pay for transit.”

He said that means spending more money on both highways and transit. The state has already put $1 billion in transportation projects out to bid this year.

Neither, went into great detail about how exactly they would fund the projects, but Malloy emphasized the need to get federal funding for these large projects, such as the replacement of the 118-year-old walk bridge in Norwalk.

“One way or another the bridge has to be replaced,” Malloy said. “It is our highest priority.”

But he said his administration has also put highway funding aside in that corridor to fix the entrance and exit ramps onto Interstate 95.

“If I don’t get re-elected there still will be a lot of projects to do,” Malloy said. “There still will be work under way and I will never turn over an empty cabinet when it comes to transportation infrastructure projects that need to be engaged in by the state of Connecticut … We can never, never turn over a state in as bad a shape as we allowed this state to get in.”

Foley said he believes the federal government will help support the expansion of Connecticut’s roads, but if they don’t he’s ready to continue funding these projects with state dollars. However, it’s unclear where he would find to billions of dollars he needs in order to fund the projects already in the pipeline.

“We have the sources of financing and we have the credit worthiness to do this,” Foley told reporters. “. . . I’m not just going to enter into a long dialogue about this. We’re going to find solutions and we’re going to implement those solutions and solve these problems for the citizens.”

Asked about the New Britain-to-Hartford busway, which has been rebranded CTFastrak, Foley said since the money has already been spent it wouldn’t make sense to shut it down. The busway will open in 2015.

“Well keep it going and see if it pays for itself,” Foley said. “If after that it isn’t paying for itself. That’s a challenge, I don’t know if we should be subsidizing the operation of that route.”

It was pointed out to Foley that all public transportation is subsidized to some extent. Asked if the state should continue subsidizing any form of public transit, Foley said “well it depends. If it’s the only source of public transportation available for people then I think it’s worth while to subsidize it, but there are many alternatives for people between New Britain and Hartford.”

Walking and biking were two forms of transportation not raised at the forum Monday.

“This may be the heart of the matter — he does not understand people who take buses,” Malloy said. “He does not understand buses. He does not understand how widespread the use of buses is in the Greater Hartford area. He doesn’t understand that Hartford is one of the greatest users of buses in the nation.”